On this first day of 2016 I started the day with a bowl of ozoni. Ozoni is the soup that is eaten during the New Year’s holiday in Japan. I first learned to make it when I spent New Year’s at my in-laws’ house in Togo, Fukui. Each area of Japan has its own style of ozoni, but one general rule is that those living in the Kanto area have a dashi broth, and those in the Kansai area have a miso broth. Ozoni differs even from town to town, and household to household. This morning both my daughter and I are carrying on the tradition of the Aoyama family.

Our ozoni might be called binbokusai, or a poor man’s soup. It does not have much in it—no vegetables or meat. It is very simple, and perhaps the reason is that my in-laws own a rice shop and they prepare a lot of mochi each year. It’s delicious. And I can’t imagine ozoni any other way at this point.

Today’s miso soup: Even though it IS a soup with miso, it is still called ozoni. I used a light miso and first boiled water with an ample piece of kombu. I dropped a couple of pieces of mochi (note that we eat round mochi in Kansai, not the square mochi of Kanto) and simmered it until the mochi was soft enough to eat. Miso is added and that’s it! When it is served, we sprinkle katsuoboshi or bonito flakes over it. And that’s the first meal of the day.



Last miso soup of the year

Apologies for neglecting to post. On this last year of 2015 I have already eaten too much omochi, so today I was craving a soup chock full of vegetables. Unfortunately, my fridge wasn’t yielding too much on this last day of the year, but I did achieve a healthy mix. I hope to be making more and more soup in 2016.

Today’s miso soup: To my surprise I was scraping the bottom of the bin of the white miso I’ve grown so fond of. I had to add a little red miso to complete the soup, so today’s soup is awase-miso, or mixed miso. It has lots of tofu, some carrots chopped using rangiri, or in chunks, and some spinach and scallions. I used baby spinach leaves left over from salad. I put them in after the miso, and with the stove turned off just letting the heat of the soup itself wilt the leaves. If you put in spinach too soon your soup will turn an odious green!


Back to Miso Soup

The holiday season has begun with all kinds of goodies. But after a delicious Thanksgiving and delicious leftovers it feels good to get back to miso soup. I had a consultation with my refrigerator and came up with a soup that included leftover (uncooked) vegetables. It was an odd combination, but strangely delicious.

Today’s miso soupSatsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato), Japanese cabbage (from the Japanese farmer here in Amherst), and aburage (thin deep-fried tofu). In retrospect, a little black sesame seed on top might have been nice.


Home Sweet Home

Miso soup for lunch seems like such a luxury and is one of the perks I give myself when I am working from home. On a rainy autumn day it can be the most comforting food there is. This month we’re heavy on root vegetables and the essence of the soup itself. When I’ve been working since the early hours of morning it is like saying “Otsukaresama” to myself. This is how you thank someone for their hard work. And even just the process of separating myself from the computer to chop some vegetables and prepare my soup is a blessing.

Today’s miso soup: Hearty is the word. I included atsuage (think deep-fried tofu), carrots, daikon, Japanese cabbage, and scallions. It’s almost like a stew. Also happy to be home to my delicious white miso.

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Okaasan no aji

Long time, no miso. I’ve been traveling for both work and pleasure. I visited my daughter and made a pot of miso soup. Part of the fun of making miso soup for a family member is to ask them to do ajimi or tasting to check if the proportions are right.  When I make miso soup for my daughter I can always count on her to take a taste and sigh that it is okaasan no aji. This literally translates to mom’s taste, but basically means it tastes just like the soup she had growing up. All over Japan people long for okaasan no aji. Perhaps not Japan, but all over the world. Nostalgic food is universal.

It’s frustrating to cook miso soup in a new place. The stove, water, miso, cooking tools and ingredients are all slightly different. And with miso soup that can throw everything off. Nonetheless, my daughter seemed to like it.

Miso soup for my daughter:  Tofu, potato, carrot, onion, and mushroom. Pretty basic stuff!


Hearty stuff

I worked from home again today and made a very hearty miso soup for lunch. There’s nothing much different from the usual ingredients here, but what did change was the way I cut the vegetables. There are so many ways to create variety here depending on both the shape and the size of the vegetables. Today it was all about hunks. Hunks take longer to cook, but give the soup a very hearty feel.

Today’s soup also had satsumaimo or Japanese sweet potatoes in it. Rumor has it that Trader Joe’s is now selling these under the name of Murasaki Sweet Potatoes. Murasaski means purple in Japanese and these potatoes are purple on the outside and very pale yellow in the inside.  I cannot tell you how much better these taste than American sweet potatoes or yams. I get mine at Whole Foods. They are well worth trying!

Today’s miso soup: Chunky carrots, daikon, satsumaimo, and some onions for flavor. I almost never put sweet potato in miso soup, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that they gave the soup a slightly sweet flavor. I’ll definitely be using them frequently from here on out.


Soup full of Goo

It’s not as bad as it sounds. Goo, or more properly “gu”  具 just means ingredients. And while the type of miso that you use to create the soup is important, it is the gu that most people are thinking of. People in America are used to the gu that you find in soup at Japanese restaurants which seems to be tiny tofu pieces and seaweed. Probably much of this is reconstituted from dried ingredients. I find it to be salty. So sometimes people are surprised about the ingredients that I use. Miso soup can really have anything in it. And a hearty miso soup often hits the spot on a cool day. With autumn vegetables at their peak, my soup has more gu than soup. To the point of: am I drinking or eating my soup?

Today’s miso soup: atsuage (thick deep-fried tofu), carrots, daikon, hakusai (Chinese cabbage)